Advancing Sustained Gender Equity in the Food Processing Industry
Women represent a significant number of the food processing industry’s workforce, yet they are often underrepresented in leadership roles, face discrimination and have unequal opportunities. As a development program focused on enhancing the availability of safe and nutritious foods, the Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing (AINFP) recognizes the critical gaps that need to be addressed to advance gender equity in the food processing industry.
The Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing-AINFP) program is a partnership between USAID, TechnoServe and Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) that aims to create a more competitive food-processing sector. The AINFP program leverages the power of the private sector to create better nutritional and food safety outcomes for base-of-the-pyramid consumers. This is achieved by supporting local food processing companies in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia and Malawi through technical assistance and training from world-leading food processing companies under PFS and expert consultants to increase the availability of safe, affordable and nutritious food.
Since the beginning of our program, 68 women-owned/led food processors in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia have generated total revenue of over $48,000,000, with more deals in the pipeline aimed at providing capital for the growth and sustainability of women-led companies. We’ve done this by supporting women-owned or led food processors with:
- Capacity Building—Training and one-on-one technical assistance in product development, reformulation, shelf-life improvement, micronutrient fortification, food safety, business processes and strategy development.
- Access to Finance—Through a partnership with Initiative for Smallholder Finance (ISF) Advisors, the AINFP program has identified specific financial products for women entrepreneurs and has supported women-owned and led businesses to access over $4,200,000 in grant and debt funding.
However, during 2019–2020, the program recognized that women entrepreneurs were struggling more than their male peers. AINFP embarked on a gender gaps assessment that was carried out to gain from experiences of women in the food processing industry in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia to support in tailoring specific solutions and the development of gender-action plans for overall adoption in organizations across the five program regions. Throughout the implementation of the AINFP program interventions, it has been evident that women remain at the heart of social and economic growth, especially in the food industry, despite the numerous challenges they face. Moreover, an additional layer of activities was warranted to support women to lead with purpose and confidence in the food processing industry.
Some of the barriers that stood out from assessments include:
- Lack of significant support for women leaders in entrepreneurship and therefore undermining the leadership role of women in food processing. Most women shared that they lacked any previous mentorship or support for leadership and management training.
- A shared perception that women are not suited for leadership roles or physically demanding tasks associated with the male-dominated food processing industries. This stereotype is not only outdated but also harmful to women's career progression and overall well-being. Most of the women indicated that they were not part of any support networks and were hesitant to open up to others due to this stereotype. However, they expressed that they were interested in being part of a support network, receiving personal development training and joining mentorship programs.
To ensure women in the food processing industry are adequately empowered, the AINFP program is prioritizing a women in business leadership training, coaching, and mentorship program to eliminate biases for effective personal development, enhanced management efficiency, improved business performance, and further efforts for women’s access to finance.
To this effect, the program will be launching this intervention to advance the role of women in the food processing industry with the objective of:
- Building business leadership and management skills;
- Gaining confidence as a leader;
- Mobilizing stakeholders;
- Networking of women at all stages of their careers in the food system;
- Applying the skills learned to real challenges faced; and
- Receiving feedback & support from peers and facilitators.
To further realize these objectives beyond the mentorship/training periods and for sustained advancements in the industry, AINFP has developed practical tools and daily procedures for incorporation at the business level. TechnoServe’s Gender Responsive Business Practices (GRBP) diagnostic tool allows for joint assessments on gaps and opportunities for strengthening gender-smart practices with our food processing clients and, in turn, offer sector-wide support to introduce and improve practices that ensure inclusion across the value chain. The sector-wide training targets both women and male allies to offer capacity building on innovative solutions that ensure women farmers have better access to food processing plants. This also ensures that businesses can review their lists of suppliers regularly to identify any gender gaps and opportunities for capacity sharing amongst men and women farmers.
So far, AINFP has achieved numerous progress in bridging the gender gap in the food industry and forging impact in working with women to ensure the production and distribution of safe, nutritious and affordable food to communities in Pan-Africa with secondary influence to the entire continent.
The AINFP program is committed to ensuring food processors apply Gender Responsive Business Practices with the goal of identifying steps these companies can take to increase their total number of women suppliers and build inclusive distribution channels. Gender equity in the food processing industry is crucial to ensure that women receive equitable access to extension services and ensure they remain incentivized to produce and distribute safe and nutritious foods. By taking proactive steps to address gender-based biases and promote equitable opportunities, we can create a more just food processing industry that benefits everyone.